ITV executives have weighed the merits of snatching Big Brother from Channel 5 – the broadcaster’s latest two-year deal expires at the end of the year – to boost programming across its expanding portfolio of channels.
The huge success of ITV2, the biggest digital channel in the UK, has led ITV to launch a spin-off channel with a core focus on reality and non-scripted shows.
The female-focused channel, called ITVBe, will become the home of shows including The Only Way is Essex and Real Housewives.
Big Brother, and its celebrity stablemate, could be used to give newcomer ITVBe a major boost against rival channels. Or Big Brother and CBB could be split across channels.
It is thought that discussions at ITV are unlikely to progress to a bid for Big Brother, because the rights remain at a level of about £20m per year.
“It has been discussed, these thing are, it is not a completely ridiculous idea,” said one source. “But it is quite expensive to run on digital channels, I can’t see it happening.” However, one media executive said the plan is ‘“still boiling” and no solid decision had been taken.
ITV declined to comment.
ITV has previously been named as a potential bidder for Big Brother – albeit back in 2006 when the show was on Channel 4 – while ITV2, Living and Sky1 have also previously been highlighted as channels with a good potential content fit.
Big Brother’s popularity may have waned in recent years – ratings peaked in 2002 when 9.2 million tuned in to see Kate Lawler win – but it retains a loyal fan base of several million young viewers, a key demographic for advertisers.
In 2011, Richard Desmond struck a deal to take over the franchise after a decade on Channel 4, with the enduring popularity of Big Brother a critical factor in the turnaround of heavily loss-making Channel 5.
While the threat of ITV snatching the rights looks unlikely, Viacom, the new US owner of Channel 5, will be mindful of the need to shore up key programming deals to maintain profitability.
As well as Big Brother, whose rights are handled by Endemol production subsidiary Initial, Channel 5 is facing a TV rights renegotiation for Neighbours. The 10-year deal with producer Fremantle is due to expire in 2017, however negotiations are expected to start as soon as next year.
In 2007, Channel 5 made a shock swoop for the rights to the Australian hit soap, which had aired on the BBC for 21 years, with ITV also named as a bidding party. While the show no longer provides the huge ratings it once did, it remains a reliable audience magnet for Channel 5.
Viacom will also have to address the looming schedule and ratings hole that will be left by the Crime Scene Investigation franchise, a big ratings staple on Channel 5 for more than a decade, as it begins to wind down on-screen.